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David Baxter

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CONSUMERS HAVE FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY ABOUT ONLINE PRIVACY ? ACTIONS INCONSISTENT WITH ATTITUDES

TRUSTe/TNS Survey Shows A Majority of Internet Users Believe They Know How to Protect Their Privacy Online, Most Fail to Take Needed Actions

San Francisco, CA? December 6, 2006 ? Eighty-six percent of American Internet users believe they know how to protect their personal information online, and 57 percent claim to consistently take the necessary steps to do so, according to new research from TRUSTe, the leading privacy certification and seal program and market information group TNS. However, the survey results indicate that most Internet users are not taking the actions needed to protect their privacy online.

The research indicates that a majority of online consumers do not read privacy statements?one of the primary tools organizations use to communicate their privacy practices. When providing personal information to a Web site for the first time:

  • Only 28 percent of consumers say they check ?most of the time? (more than 75 percent of the time) to make sure the Web site has a privacy statement.
  • Only 20 percent say they read the privacy statement, if provided, ?most of the time.?
  • Only five percent of consumers frequently check to see if privacy statements have been updated or revised.
Based on guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission and the Center for Democracy & Technology, TRUSTe recommends that consumers take a number of steps to protect their privacy online. The survey reveals that a minority of Internet users have done eight of the 11 recommended actions in the past six months:

  • 45 percent have used more than one email address so that one is reserved solely for their personal communication
  • 43 percent have read privacy policies
  • 37 percent have backed up important files
  • 33 percent have provided email addresses and information that would not identify them personally
  • 33 percent have changed passwords on a regular basis
  • 26 percent have looked for third-party seals or certification
  • 16 percent have used email encryption
  • 12 percent have logged-in anonymously or used anonymizing or free ID Web sites to generate their ID
?While the majority of consumers surveyed say they care about their privacy online and feel confident about how to protect themselves, the survey results suggest that consumers are not consistently following through in taking actions to protect their personal information,? said Fran Maier, executive director and president, TRUSTe. ?The data show that we have more work to do in educating consumers about making informed choices regarding their privacy.?

A majority of Internet users surveyed took three of the recommended actions in the past six months:

  • 81 percent have used anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software
  • 76 percent have made sure their anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall software is up to date
  • 67 percent have configured their browser or operating system to block pop-ups, reject cookies or block specific Web sites
?Our goal was to determine whether consumers take the recommended actions to protect themselves on the Internet,? said David Stark, North America privacy officer, TNS. ?While it is encouraging that many are using software applications to safeguard themselves online, these tools alone aren?t sufficient.?

The results also indicate that a majority of consumers are confused about the role of a Web site?s privacy statement. Fifty-three percent of survey respondents believe that a posted privacy statement means the organization ?will never sell or give any of my personal information to anyone else.?

Who Do Consumers Trust?
Internet users surveyed were asked to indicate which organizations they trust to keep their personal information secure. Banks and financial institutions are clearly the most trusted group, with 76 percent of respondents reporting that they trust them ?always? or ?most of the time.? Results for other organizations consumers trust always or most of the time include:

  • 55 percent trust government agencies and departments
  • 51 percent trust online shopping sites such as Amazon or eBay
  • 41 percent trust large retail stores
  • 25 percent trust news media Web sites
  • 10 percent trust social networking sites
Only 33 percent of survey respondents say they trust companies to honor their choice to not receive spam ?always? or ?most of the time.?

Online Trust Impacts Consumer Behavior

The survey shows that consumer trust online impacts behavior. In the past six months:

  • 71 percent of respondents have decided against registering or making a purchase online because those actions required them to provide information that they did not want to divulge.
  • 41 percent said that, in the past six months, they have provided inaccurate information to Web sites that required personal information which respondents did not want to share.
?Online trust issues continue to impact consumer behavior on the Internet. High profile privacy breaches this year have exacerbated consumer concern,? said Maier. ?It?s vital for organizations to employ responsible practices and to effectively demonstrate their commitment to privacy protections to their customers.?

Commissioned by TRUSTe and conducted by market research group TNS, the survey polled 1,025 U.S. consumers between September 25 and September 29, 2006. Email invitations were sent to a nationally representative sample of the U.S. adult online population derived from the TNS NFO Internet Access Panel, which comprises more than one million U.S. households that have agreed to participate in survey research from time to time. In total, 1,025 online interviews were completed and the survey results are considered accurate to within three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

About TRUSTe
TRUSTe helps consumers and businesses identify trustworthy online organizations through its Web Privacy and Email Privacy Seals and resolves thousands of individual privacy disputes each year. An independent, nonprofit organization celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2007, TRUSTe runs the world?s largest privacy seal program, with more than 2,000 Web sites certified, including the major internet portals and leading brands such as AOL, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Intuit and eBay. Through its Trusted Download Program, TRUSTe develops standards for non-intrusive downloads that demonstrate consumer choice. TRUSTe also provides accreditation, monitoring and oversight for email with the Email Privacy Seal Program, and for Return Path?s SenderScore Certified Program. To learn more, visit www.truste.org.
 

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